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Interactive Trendlines

A sampling of what some of the leading lights in interactive animation have to say about what the future has in store.

Given the rapid rate of change in the interactive animation industry, we thought it would be interesting to check in with some of the key figures to see what they feel the future has in store.

John Gentile, President, Abrams/Gentile Entertainment, New York City: With the future megabyte platform just around the corner, true interactive entertainment will finally occur with the introduction of DVD and multilevel DVD (supporting up to a terrabyte of data on one mini-CD). But, what will truly drive interactive media will be ultimately one thing--content.

Content in the form of good stories and original characters is king and will always be king. The focus in creating such content will be to develop and create multi-layered storylines and characters to take advantage of the interactive process and maximize the multiple decision trees, the interactive viewer must choose to complete the story or adventure.

AGE will continue its pursuit of state of the art animation, both in cel and digital form, along with the creator of animotion (animation and live action) and live action with computer entertainment programs that push the visual envelope of TV viewing, while at the same time, creating content that is able to be totally vertically integrated from animation to interactive publishing and all forms of multimedia byproducts."

Blaine Cone, Vice President Research and Design, Nicholas Frank Company, Atlanta:

The emergence of DVD will be a godsend for the "content intensive" segment of the industry. DVD is a medium capable of providing enough disk space for extensive animation, audio, etc. This means that animation and audio quality won't be as limited by space constraints anymore. It's a beautiful thing . . .

Gail Williams, Director, Multimedia, Corel Corporation, Ottawa: Corel is very excited about the future of the multimedia industry. Industry trends show that educational products are expected to boom starting as early as 1997 and will eventually match game revenue. Corel hopes to be a dominant force in both areas.

In addition, Corel has entered the high-end multimedia market with Corel Click and Create a multimedia authoring tool, which will soon be bundled with Corel Lumiere.

The recent progression in hardware development in such areas as increased processing power, larger mass storage devices, and plentiful RAM on computer systems being purchased in the consumer market, coupled with readily available video capture technology, has made the market ripe for applications that can quickly and easily turn raw video footage into a highly polished production. Corel Lumiere is just such a product.

Computer animation has never been more exciting and Corel hopes to continue to provide excitement to its users with leading edge graphics and animation in its series of multimedia products.

Bing Gordon, Co-founder & Executive Vice President of Marketing, Electronic Arts, San Mateo, California: Electronic Arts was founded in 1982 to make entertainment software as important as film and recorded music. We're about half way there, in my opinion. One of the major changes has been the growing importance of art and animation. In 1982, computer games cost $50,000 to build, and had $5,000 worth of art. Today, CD-ROM games cost $1-2 Million to build, with $500,000 to $1 Million in art. The most important trend in entertainment software is not technology, but the increased importance of world class creative artists. Here's why:

  • Great art and audio pump up the immersiveness of our medium. Forget virtual reality headsets; people are delivering VR on high-res monitors through motion captured 3D characters, 3D worlds and vehicles, and great cel animation.
  • World class animation dramatically increases the sensuality of our software. Traditionally trained animators are teaching us to turn hundred-polygon blockheads and flying boxcars into avatars and F-15s.
  • World class artists are reinventing entertainment software. World class creative artists, after a 3-5 year apprenticeship in software, are starting to turn video games for boys into interactive entertainment for everyone. They're making the products that keep me interested. And making the jump to TV, film and book successes.

At EA, we have more than 150 animators and 3-D artists making 40 games each year, in Northern California, Vancouver BC, Austin Texas, London and Tokyo.

Ian Verchere, Producer, Radical Entertainment, Vancouver, British Columbia: With the increasing accessibility of powerful 3D processors, whether in game consoles made by Sony and Nintendo or as add-on boards for PCs, immersive interactive 3D experiences are becoming widely available to the mass market. What had previously existed only in the ethereal economic realm of the military and aerospace industries can now be purchased at software and electronics retailers for under $200.

High-resolution computer animations associated with the cinema have the luxury of minutes or hours of rendering time. Interactive experiences, particularly action-based video and computer gaming demand rendering speeds measured in a sixtieth of a second.

The animation of characters in this challenging environment requires unique skills. Artists with a solid foundation in the traditional language of 2D animation and a willingness to explore new technology will be much in demand.

Mega Math Blaster © Davidson & Associates.

Rich Cook, Creative Director, Davidson & Associates, Torrance, California: In 1997, we anticipate an even greater use of composited graphics, i.e. 2D character animation with 3D modeled backgrounds, objects and interface elements. At Davidson, we are combining elements from both 2D and 3D worlds and inventing new ways for them to work together.

The next step in this direction will be the use of 3D character animation, both in the 3D world and combined with live-action 2D backgrounds, or graphic elements. Character animation at Davidson is going even a step further, with the use of some very new technology in the performance animation field. I expect there will be an explosion of interest in this technology in the coming year.

The use of 3D character models with motion data supplied by a live actor will shorten production times and emphasize human reactions and emotions. This exciting art form will continue traditional theatrical techniques, puppeteering, 3D character modeling and cartooning in a single animated performance. We are also looking into ways for this all to happen in real time, bringing us closer to something we might call cybermation.

Dennis Defensor, President and CEO, TerraGlyph Interactive Studios.

Dennis Defensor, President and CEO, TerraGlyph Interactive Studios, Schaumburg, Illinois:

The bar has been raised, and expectations are changing. Pixellated graphics or low quality animation will no longer appeal to the mainstream consumer market. The animation for an interactive entertainment product must be film-feature quality, otherwise it will risk being stigmatized as an inferior product. In the near future, we will see the seamless integration of 2D and 3D animation to capture the smooth motion of 2D motion and the depth of 3D. Due to new hardware developments as the PC moves from the home office to the living room, products must be developed that will be compelling from 1-1/2 feet to 10 feet away from the monitor.

Steve Halpern, Publishing Operations/Development, GTE Interactive, Carlsbad, California: Here at GTE Entertainment we continually strive to push the envelope with regard to engineering, graphics and design to directly support realism and game play. We see the momentous changes in technical advancements quickly reaching a critical mass which will ultimately enable us to create environments that reflect reality and thereby enable us to focus our energy on great game experiences.

Faster processors and accelerator boards will enable us to create a sense of realism that will elicit the level of emotional response that can be equated to real life action based experiences. Coupled with SGI graphics and highly tuned AI and 3D engines we can provide the audience with real time PC based interactive experiences that totally immerse the consumer.

Concurrently we see advancement on the horizon focusing on bandwidth and latency issues that ultimately will enable the Internet to host forums of multiplayer gaming experiences, demonstrating the realism described above. We ate GTE Entertainment plan to participate in the forefront of those developments. However, it is our firm belief that it is the game play that must be our primary focus and that it is the consumer that will ultimately decide the success or failure of our creations.

Steve Crane, Vice President Technology, Activision Studios.

Steve Crane, Vice President Technology, Activision Studios, Los Angeles: Today's animation technology is already fairly sophisticated. However, the area in which animation technology for game development will continue to change will be in the types of computers used and the technology features that will convey a greater sense of character realism.

The ultimate goal for game developers is to have the ability to create virtual characters with realistic movement and personalities that allow players complete character control. This is being achieved through the combination of having animators develop on the target machine for the user end product and creating new animation tools that will convey the subtleties of human realism.

Currently, game developers in particular are moving away from Silicon Graphics Workstations to PC computers. One of the reasons for this shift is that PCs are more cost effective and more financially accessible. They are also familiar to a greater number of animators. Additionally, PCs offer greater compatibility for game developers because it is the target machine for the end product.

In the area of character animation, current technology is pushing the envelope in allowing animators to create characters with real personalities while giving players complete character control. However, there are still a few computer constructs preventing character motion from seeming human. To overcome these obstacles, game developers are building there own interactive animation tables and additional tools.

Nick Iuppa, Vice President of Design, Paramount Digital Media, Mountai View, California: My good friend Chuck Jones recently reminded me that Webster's definition of animation is "to breathe life into something." And that is what I see animation doing for the Internet, adding life to locations and pages that formerly were static.

Of course there are tools required to make this happen, there are questions of download time. But the pull of user demand may bring those tools into our hands more quickly than we ever thought possible.

In the meantime, the more we can add motion to our sites, the more we can bring them to life. The is almost a requirement for those of us who are attempting to create entertainment sites. Without motion and quality sound, the Internet can never fully become a popular entertainment medium. Nor can it really begin to explore that most important and elusive characteristic, interactivity.

The Magic School Bus © Scholastic.

Sue Rosenthal, Manager Of Interactive Media, Scholastic Productions, New York City:

I'm not typical in my vision of what's going to happen with CD-ROMs. The hype these days seems to be with the Internet and people think that they are going to be no more. But I think all you have to do is look at the installed base of computers with CD-ROM players in homes and schools to know that they are not going to go away overnight. Especially CDs for kids. They are the ones who are going to drive demand in the next decade. All one has to do is look at increasing sales of a program like the magic school bus or any of the other top kids titles to figure that out.

Up until very recently, animation was the viable option for CD-ROMs. It certainly looks like we'll have technologies that will not only be capable of running animation, but of running truly viable video and merging the two. In some respect, you're going to have computer graphics that are merging with video. A good example of that is Escape From Horrorland, the Goosebumps CD-ROM we did with DreamWorks.

What you've seen in the past is that the animation [in CD-ROMs] has been limited by what the user's computer can run. You're not getting as many frames as you are in television animation. The more powerful computers get and the better compression technology gets, then you'll be getting animation that's close to, or even better than television.

However, what's going to make animation and interactive entertainment products successful is starting out with a good story, a strong license and great characters. I don't care how good you're technology is, if you don't have that to begin with, you're not going to have a good product.

R. Scott Russo,Vice President, Interactive & Executive Producer, Film Roman.

Scott Russo, Vice President, Interactive & Executive Producer, Film Roman, North Hollywood: The industry has taken a good hit, with a lot of publishers going out of business. We've actually had a significant growth in the industry, but we've also had an exponential growth of titles coming into the marketplace. So, no one is really doing the numbers they've done previously.

Because of that, people are going towards games that were successful in the past--the Marios, the King's Quests and the Wing Commanders. Christmas 97 is going to be like a sequel summer, at least for the titles that are going to do well. There will be other titles out there, but I don't think they're going to have anywhere near the hit potential that some of the sequels will next year.

There's a lot of consumer weariness to where the market is really going. Once the platform wars settle down a bit (whether Ninetendo 64 or Sony Playstation is going to win), or if CD-ROMs are going to be around, or if everything going to go on-line. Thus, no one is buying a lot of product now. That's going to change, too, but it's going to take 18 months.

Going on-line eliminates a lot of problems. A lot of people want multiplayer games, which certainly is a new trend. So, as bandwidth issues and latency problems go away, you're going to see very high quality content there.

As to animation, the current trend is to high-end 3D graphics. Two-D cel animation certainly has its place in the linear formats, but it's skewing very young in the interactive market. It's great for edutainment or educational titles, or for the stuff companies like Disney and Brøderbund do. But the games that are the big hits--7th Guest, Commander and Conquer, Warcraft--they use a lot of 3D graphics.

Green Eggs And Ham © Living Books.

Mark Schlichting, Vice President of Research & Design/Creative Director, Living Books, San Francisco: Some of the changes I see are in animation being streamed in over the Internet. In the early days, we had to design animation for the narrow bandwidth available with less powerful machines. Now, we are using pencil animation. But until the bandwidth gets better, current streaming technologies will put us back to the old place, where we will have to use more limited animation.

I foresee two basic models by which this new approach will be used. There is the advertising model, in which advertisers give you something for watching a demo. Then we will have interactive networks, modeled after cable TV, using high bandwidth lines, where you might pay $5.00 a month to play games on a network. Potential buyers of video games will also be able to sample new games on-line before buying it, much in the way that radio allows listeners to preview CDs.

Right now, you can play interactively, in a multiplayer environment, on the Internet, but each player has to have most of their assets on a local machine using a CD-ROM.

John Hughes, President, Rhythm & Hues Studios, Los Angeles: Rhythm & Hues has been in the business of creating images with computers for a decade. Our core markets have been commercials, theme park attractions and feature film animation and effects. A fourth division was created when Adam Spindell and Dan Quarnstrom approached the four company owners with a concept for an original game in l994. The owners immediately agreed to finance the development of their game and the Interactive Game Division was born.

In the feature film market we are best known for our work on Babe for which we won the Academy Award this year. Our most recognized commercial work would be the ever popular Coke Polar Bears spots. Our theme park work is showcased by Epcot, MCA Universal, Disney and several Las Vegas venues. And now, our first original game is entitled Eggs of Steel and is slated for a Christmas '97 release on Sony Playstation.

The 4 owners and 200 employees are committed to excellence in all of our businesses, on every job we undertake. But being a service-based company operating within tight margins is ever more challenging in the current climate of our businesses. Our goal from the beginning has been to grow beyond the service market and to become a content provider. Our interactive game group is our first attempt to be both the creator and the production company. It is our intention to grow this aspect of our business and to eventually produce a feature-length computer generated animated film, in addition to developing more of our original interactive games.